“Computer illiterate”

Fairly frequently, people come into the library and they tell us that they are “computer illiterate” and they ask if there is someone who can help them with the computers.

They don’t ever tell us that they are illiterate and want someone to read the books to them.

Several years ago, they would say this with a certain amount of pride, like it was a good thing. They would say it as if dealing with computers was something that other people did, and they were above it. They would say it as if computers were just a passing fad that they could ignore.

They’ve started to realize that they aren’t going away, and that being “computer illiterate” isn’t such a great thing.

The library does teach classes in computers. They are free, and open to everybody. Our system also has books and DVDs that teach you how to use a computer if you can’t get to one of the classes.

The odd part is that often the people who say this are those who have to get on the computer to apply for a job. These days, a lot of job applications are online. No paper, no typewriter. It is all online, in part because the job itself uses computers. If you can’t fill out the application, you probably can’t do the job.

It is a hard, cold truth.

These days, being computer illiterate is the same as being illiterate. It is out in the cold, left behind, stuck with a low paying job.

The funny part is that these same people will say that their seven year old grandchild does better at computers than they do. The funny part there is that the only reason that a seven year old can work it is that the five year old doesn’t know he can’t. He just looks at it and tries. He thinks about the options and gives the best available one a try. If it doesn’t work, he tries something else. This is how anyone learns anything. Try. If it doesn’t work, try something else.

Maybe they should get their grandchildren to teach them how to work a computer, and for that matter, life in general. Maybe they have forgotten that the secret to everything is to give it your best guess and see what happens.

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Hide the bad stuff.

Smart artists hide the bad stuff, like how smart criminals hide the dead bodies. Part of being a good artist (or writer, or musician) is not showing people your false starts. And there are a lot of false starts in being an artist. There is a lot of “I wonder what this does” or “I wonder how this looks”. Those questions are the same as “Hey, watch this” and result in the same number of skinned knees and broken bones. But they also lead to amazing discoveries.
Part of being an artist is trying out new things. Part of it is just being willing to try. Part of being an artist is being willing to make really amazing mistakes. Part of being an artist is learning from those mistakes and not doing them again. Part of being an artist is discovering something entirely new and amazing and wonderful from those mistakes.
Sometimes I’ll show off something that I think is “eh” and others think is “oh yeah!” And other times I’ll put out something that I think is “wow” and others think is “meh”. You really never know. The audience always brings itself to your art.
What you meant to say is never what they hear. Ever. Get used to it. Even of you go out of your way to make what you mean to say as crystal clear as a lake on a still summer’s day, it still won’t mean that to the audience. Because the audience brings its own past and impressions and feelings to the table and sees your art through different eyes.
So just create. Learn to edit. Try. Show off the good stuff. Realize that some of what you think is the bad stuff isn’t that bad. Show it off too.
Artists just make creativity look easy. It isn’t. What the audience sees is the result of many years of work and refining. The audience sees the tip of the iceberg, while the artist sees all that ice. The artist scaled that ice, clawing and scraping to the top, step by agonizing step.
Consider Bruce Lee. He made martial arts look so easy and effortless. It wasn’t effortless or easy. He practiced all day. When he broke his back and was immobile he thought about his practice and had his wife write down his ideas. He was constantly working on his art.
So go make stuff. Make more stuff. Show it off. Make more stuff. But keep practicing your art, no matter what.

Apples, or how to get quality through focus.

I read once about how the Japanese grow such amazing apples. They look at the small apples when they are just beginning to grow and they pull off the ones that they don’t need. All the ones that look a little scraggly or misshapen they pull off. Because of this, the other fruit gets the energy that was going to them. So instead of having 10 good apples and 10 ok apples, they get 10 amazing apples. Quality over quantity.

I think it would be a good idea for us to apply that concept to all of our activities. In this, I’m specifically thinking about hobbies, or things we do for fun that we would like to get better at.

Rather than getting scattered trying to do too many things, select the ones that look the most promising. Pick those that look fruitful, if you will.

What do you enjoy doing most? What do you think you would like to spend more time on and get better at?

We have only so much time in our days and in our lives. It is wiser to pare down and do two things amazingly well than 10 things only ok.

I’ve read that the difference between an average artist and an amazing one is practice. The main difference is time – specifically 10,000 hours of time – spent honing your craft. This applies to music, to writing, drawing. It is the same for a seamstress or a surgeon. Want to get better at it? Do it. A lot. Make a regular habit of it.

Some natural aptitude is helpful, but the real difference is work.

Nobody starts off an expert. Of course your first attempts look wonky. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else – they aren’t you. What is important is that you hone your craft, your skill.

There is a Chinese saying that the best time to plant a tree was 100 years ago. The second best time is today.

Get going.